top of page

Hong Kong to boost tourism with 'eco-recreation corridor' on South Lantau

The Hong Kong government has plans to transform the rural south of its largest outlying island into a holiday destination. Is South Lantau set to become Hong Kong’s Sentosa, asks Carolynne Dear

South Lantau eco-recreation corridor

Surfers and locals mingle on laid-back Lower Cheung Sha beach

Lantau is an island of two halves. Once no more than one of the many sparsely populated outlying islands that fall inside Hong Kong’s jurisdiction, Lantau was transformed in the 1990s and early 2000s by successive infrastructure projects on its northern side. 

In 1997 the Lantau Link opened ahead of the brand new international airport opening at Chek Lap Kok in 1998. Citygate outlet mall at Tung Chung was unveiled in 2000, Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005, followed in 2006 by the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, and in 2018 the massive bridge project linking Tung Chung with Zhuhai and Macau finally opened.

However, while the north has become increasingly developed, the south of the island has retained much of its rural charm of yesteryear. Soaring mountains rather than soaring skyscrapers are the order of the day here, with emerald green forests sloping down to idyllic sandy beaches. Village life flourishes and cars are forbidden unless you possess a resident’s permit. The pace of life is relaxed with visitors making the trip over either to surf or to enjoy the island’s superb network of mountain hikes.


‘Development in the north, conservation in the south’ has always been the mantra for Lantau. And while major construction projects have continued apace up north, the south has been left largely untouched.

South Lantau eco-recreation corridor

The Ngong Ping 360 cable car swings over housing developments in Lantau's north to the mountains of the south

But in a territory-wide bid to entice tourists back to Hong Kong, the government has now come up with a ‘Lantau Conservation and Recreation Masterplan’ which will entail a major shake-up for sleepy South Lantau. 

The Civil Engineering and Development Department, who, along with the Sustainable Lantau Office, are putting forward the plan, is recommending the formulation of a ‘South Lantau Eco-recreation Corridor’. The government has its sights set on “enhancing the eco-recreation potential of the coastal areas of South Lantau for public enjoyment and experience.” 

Five ‘clusters’ are proposed, with the development of Cheung Sha, Shi Hau, Shek Pik and Puo O as a ‘coastal cluster’, otherwise known as the South Lantau Eco-recreation Corridor. The corridor would fall north and south of the main South Lantau Road and include a 300-hectare green belt zone. 

If the eco corridor gets the green light, visitor centres, car parks, mountain chair lifts and glamping sites are all proposed. Presently, around two-and-a-half thousand people visit the area during the holiday season. It’s anticipated this figure will rise by up to 6,000 additional visitors a day on completion of the corridor. 

At the moment, many day-trippers to South Lantau gravitate to Cheung Sha, which is the entry point to South Lantau and boasts Hong Kong’s longest beach. At the lower end of the beach there are currently a handful of beach restaurants, snack kiosks and surf hire shacks. Understandably, it’s a popular spot for Hong Kongers during the summer.

South Lantau eco-recreation corridor

The 'Big Buddha' at Po Lin monastery has proved to be a popular attraction for tourists

The government is now proposing to transform Cheung Sha into a ‘recreation hub’, with a ‘landmark’ visitor centre offering retail and catering and events, such as outdoor markets, throughout the year. Public transport links will be boosted and a car park for coaches and private cars is also proposed, along with a new pier and ferry service linking Cheung Sha with urban areas, additional outlying islands and other tourist attractions on Lantau. It’s also hoped the pier will boost ‘island hopping’ tourism in Hong Kong.

Down on the sand, the existing beach facilities at Lower Cheung Sha will be enhanced, with more catering and water sport options introduced. Meanwhile, the quieter Upper Cheung Sha beach will receive a water sports and recreation centre, leisure and adventure water sports zones, a campsite, beach playground and an events space. 

Away from the beach, the green belt area to the north of South Lantau Road in Upper Cheung Sha will see an ‘adventure vacation area’, including chairlifts, rope adventures and holiday accommodation.

Meanwhile at Shek Pik, trails and an open-air museum are planned. Shek Pik reservoir is the third largest in Hong Kong. It’s surrounded by stunning mountain ranges and has a rich archaeological history, including the ancient Shek Pik rock carvings and the ruins of Hung Shing temple and the former Shek Pik village. 

Proposals to enhance the area as a tourist destination include the creation of a heritage trail in the style of an open-air museum showcasing the rock carvings and the history of the area. A path will be built along the dam of the reservoir and the catchwater channel on the eastern side will be enhanced for ‘recreational spaces’. Public toilets and water fountains will be installed.

At Shui Ha, an education centre will be built to introduce visitors to the local sandflat and the endangered Chinese horseshoe crabs that inhabit the flat. A walkway will be built along the shore of the sandflat and local villagers will be invited to act as guides, introducing visitors to the area’s customs and traditions. 

Pui O is another area to be considered of significant ecological value. It is home to a variety of natural habitats, including wetland, stream and woodland, which support roosting sites for short-nosed fruit bats and eastern cattle egrets and wintering sites for danaid butterflies. Under the development plans, the area will receive new pathways, a treetop walkway and hillside glamping sites. 

South Lantau eco-recreation corridor

Lantau boasts some of the territory's most spectacular hikes (photo courtesy Unsplash)

According to the government, the aim of the corridor is “to meet the needs for leisure, recreation and ecotourism, without damaging the ecological environment of South Lantau”. As well as encouraging more locals to the area, the government believes the development plans will attract overseas tourists. At the moment most foreign visitors make it as far as a half-day excursion to the Tian Tan Buddha attraction at Po Lin monastery on the Ngong Ping plateau in the centre of the island. Tai O stilt village on the west coast also pops up regularly on itneraries. But the beaches and trails in the south tend to be left largely to locals.

While these plans are currently only at the proposal stage, assessments have already been carried out on ecology, environment, traffic and infrastructure to confirm construction will not have adverse impacts on South Lantau. The next stage will include more detailed technical assessments. A public consultation process is currently underway and members of the public are invited to lodge their comments. 

Concerns have already been raised about the construction of the sandflat walkway at Shui Ha and its impact on the local ecology, as well as the proposed ferry service from Cheung Sha which would travel through waters where finless porpoises are often spotted.

Cautiousness is being urged by locals lest the area become over-developed. But the government believes it is striking the right balance between boosting visitor numbers and preserving the local environment. The fear, of course, is that the project becomes yet another corner of the globe that falls victim to the tourist dollar.

Read more stories like this by signing up for our FREE weekly newsletter, straight to your inbox and packed with Hong Kong and Asia news, holiday inspiration, resort reviews and giveaways. And don't forget to join the chat at Facebook Group Asia Family Traveller.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page